Sunday, 14 October 2012
GRIFFIN THEATRE’S ‘BETWEEN TWO WAVES’ dissected by me
Fact: Griffin is the only theatre in Sydney I can confidently say I get value for money whilst supporting new works and local talent. The casting net is thrown a little wider and the intimacy of the stage most often works in its favour. Writers, directors and designers can get creative on a small scale budget, actors can play with their audience and, if you can find a place to breathe in the foyer, it’s a nice place to hang out with friends. The works produced there aren’t always the best works you’ll see on the Sydney stage for the year but there is a genuine attempt to nurture and develop our national stories and voice. Let me make it clear- they’re not comping me to say this- no professional theatre in Sydney will comp me without legitimising my blog and facing the wrath of their ‘artistic’ team. But I have just subscribed again for 2013 and next year’s program contains a lot of promise.
‘Between Two Waves’ is a Griffin commissioned work, written and starring Ian Meadows. It is his vehicle and he is impressive in it. Meadows plays Daniel, an anxious climatologist who gets caught in a ‘storm’ (literal and metaphorical) and the play takes us on a journey of present day and flashbacks into Daniel’s failures and hopes as a scientist, government advisor, brother and boyfriend. I did see this play in its first preview and I am told that the major lighting effect didn’t work and there were a few kinks to work out so please understand that it has probably gone through the steamer and if you’re seeing it now, hopefully many of those kinks are now ironed out. It does mean that there isn't much point talking about the lighting design in this review, even though it may be a very significant thing when you see it.
Let me spend some time discussing the play as it is written to inform the choices in how it was performed. This play isn’t quite sure if it wants to be a film or a theatre piece. It’s engaging and has terrific ideas that pulse throughout it but some of those ideas are screaming out to be told through the camera lens- through strong controlled angles and images with a soundtrack emoting mood. What is not necessarily clear to us as a theatre audience could be made clearer through filmic devices. I certainly think it’s clear in Meadows’ mind but there are a number of loose threads that are left dangling at the end- his sister Claire, the relationship he has with his father, what made him anxious in regards to these events and relationships in the first place. These are the things as an audience member my friends and I went away discussing, what we presumed might have happened. And yes, it’s perfectly okay to come out and be asking questions but if they are the sort of things that make the difference between engaging in a good play or being affected by a powerful play, you probably don’t want your audience to be doubt.
The other thing Meadows still has to work on as the writer of this script is his supporting cast. Whilst the play hinges around his character Daniel and was written quite specifically for him to perform that character (I’ve never met Meadows but it feels to me that Daniel is a clear reflection of him). Meadows is great and he does capture the anxious but affable insecurity of a man who hasn’t found his place in the world or understand the worth he could bring to it. It does make you want to go and give him a big hug and make him a cup of hot cocoa and tell him it’ll be alright.
Meadows hasn’t given the same opportunities for the support cast to be fully utilised. They don’t seem to get the chance to be layered, vulnerable characters, even for their big scenes with Daniel. Rachel Gordon’s character of Grenelle probably comes closest as she at least has to work between being a mother of a difficult teenager and as an assessor of damage for the insurance company. Meadows has ensured that she is plunged into situations she can’t control. She has levels of vulnerability and functionality and Gordon does a good job in playing with those layers.
The character of Fiona (Ash Ricardo) doesn’t get the same attention and as a character whose choices clearly and most profoundly affect Daniel, it is a pity he has written her with such continuous aggression. Maybe there was a bit of Sam Strong’s direction driving that but if Fiona and Daniel don’t have moments of calm waters before the storm hits then we can see that wave coming a mile off and it lacks the power of impact that it should have on its audience. Even scenes that have this potential are quickly dismissed by her suspicion or ridicule of Daniel. Ash Ricardo certainly punches out the energy and I wonder, if given the chance of more nuance and softness instead of a shrewish character for most of the play, we would have engaged more with her character. Sam Strong (who I should add is probably one of the better directors working on the Sydney stage at the moment and Adelaide is very lucky to get him) might have also explored other ways to express conflict on stage apart from yelling at each other. This distinctly felt like it was an over-utilised choice. If I have a criticism of Strong it would be that sometimes less is more and I’d like to see him scale back some of the choices he makes on how his actors have to express emotion and angst, especially in this play.
As for Jimmy (Chum Ehelepola), I’m not sure whether Ehelepola was having a wonky preview or that his character is so obviously and mistakenly played as a blokey, matey archetype that it never rang true and his moments of contemplation lacked real belief that as a character, Jimmy feels a bit mostly obsolete.
The play is undercooked. But Meadows has something really good to work with and another draft or two should have it as quite the gourmet selection in the smorgasbord of Sydney theatre. And now it’s had the chance to get comfortable in its own skin, go and see it. Even with its flaws, it’s one of the better offerings on our local scene for 2012. Good performances, good direction, strong design and a solid engaging play.